NOTE: This article assumes that one has seen the stage production and/or concerts. If you have never seen them and do not wish to be spoiled, do not click on the link.
The film version of the musical sensation, Les Misérables, has finally arrived in theatres in North America. As someone who has seen the stage production some seven times (including an anniversary production at the Barbican in London back in 2010) plus numerous viewings of the two anniversary concerts, I really had to forget about the past productions and look at the film as something completely fresh. This is something that is very hard to do when one is very familiar with the songs and storyline. However, I have to say that I did enjoy the film, even though some parts need getting used to, especially the singing style.
One of the Les Mis TV spots
Russel Crowe’s Javert was probably the hardest. His rendition of “Stars” was more soulful and prayer-like (religion itself plays an important role in the story, after all, with Fantine working in a rosary factory and the numerous shots of Notre Dame), not at all like Philip Quast (10th Anniversary), Norm Lewis (25th Anniversary) or Patrick Rocca (Paris 1991), all who sang with much more anger. However, his Javert is, towards the end, less of a jerk (you have to see the film to know why, though you might be able to Google the reason). As for the other actors, Hugh Jackman’s Valjean, while different and definitely not Colm Wilkinson (whom I saw in Toronto in 1998), was not bad at all. I know that there has been a lot of criticism of his “Bring Him Home” for his lack of use of falsetto, but one has to remember that there is only one Colm and he is the Bishop of Digne in this film. Anne Hathaway’s Fantine was just heartbreaking and Amanda Seyfried had the perfect “innocent” look for Cosette. Marius, the bandwagon-jumping (hey, he wasn’t exactly fully interested in participating in the June 1832 Rebellion), lovesick boy played by Eddie Redmayne, “looked” more the part than Nick Jonas and had a voice better-suited for musical theatre. However, I am not sure if Eddie can rival Michael Ball, the original London Marius. Samantha Barks, who reprises her role as Éponine, while had a good sound, really needs to work on her screen acting a little bit more. Little Isabelle Allen, who plays Young Cosette, was absolutely heartbreaking, especially in the scene right before she sings “Castle on a Cloud”, which is set around Christmas – something that is not well noted in the stage production. Finally, the Thérnardiers, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bondham Carter, were a little bit over-the-top (but then again, how often are they NOT over the top?), playing the roles as if they were in theatre than on film. One thing that bothered me was Sacha’s accent when he sang – it sounded like a mix between his Borat character and a stereotypical French accent.
Criticisms on the singers aside, the cinematography was gorgeous and in fact, turns 1832 Paris into a character itself. Also, as a film, there’s so much more one could do than on stage. For example, one gets to see the full barricade scene, rather than from the students’ perspective only. In addition, there are parts in the film that is not seen on stage at all – General Lamarque’s funeral, for example. Being on film makes everything more “real” as well. The sewer scene, which is really up to the audience’s imagination on stage, is all the more real and much filthier in the movie, as is the opening scene with the prisoners.
For those who are fans of the stage production, brace for lyric cuts and the reordering of songs. A good part of “Drink With Me” and “A Little Fall of Rain” have been cut – including the part where Marius tells Eponine that she’d “live a hundred years.” Most people probably know that “Lovely Ladies” and “I Dreamed a Dream” have more or less switched places (which actually makes a bit of sense in this case), performed after Fantine becomes a prostitute. I do have to admit that, the new song, “Suddenly” is a good addition, but isn’t likely going to have the same kind of pop appeal as, say, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease! or Evita‘s “You Must Love Me”, meaning that it will unlikely end up as an optional song in future stage productions.
Les Mis is playing in theatres across North America and will open in the UK in January.